Out on Friday 24 June
Roland Emmerich has more explosive plans for the 4th of July. The animated truth about cats and dogs. Omer Fast’s Brit-thriller on memory loss.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Independence Day: Resurgence, The Secret Life of Pets, Remainder, Ma Ma, Adult Life Skills, No Home Movie, Elvis & Nixon, Poor Cow, Crazy About Tiffany’s, The Meddler, Suburra, and Les Cowboys.
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INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE
With the possible exception of The Matrix, no blockbuster hijacked ’90s multiplexes quite like Roland Emmerich’s supersized alien-invasion pic, Independence Day. This belated sequel, again piloted by Emmerich, proves size still matters. You oohed at spaceships 15 miles wide? Try 3,000 miles. You aahed at the ka-booming of landmarks? Then how about landmarks being tossed at other landmarks like some giant game of space marbles…?
The concept’s a good one, with a harmonised Earth having spent the last 20 years strengthening its defences in readiness of a second intergalactic shit-fit. The anti-gravitational alien tech left behind has been appropriated; a half-trillion dollar weapon is positioned on the moon; and satellite technician David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), key to winning the War of 1996, now heads up the Earth Space Defense program (ESD). Sure enough, the attack comes, with the mother of all motherships landing in the Atlantic Ocean to send up a wave that would defeat Bodhi. The East Coast is toast.
Can the survivors of the first film – including former President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), the aforementioned Levinson and his comedy-sidekick dad Julius (Judd Hirsch), and mad scientist Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) – again exterminate the ETs? To do so they’ll need some help from the next generation, most notably pilots Jake (Liam Hemsworth) and Dylan (Jesse Usher), the latter being the stepson of Will Smith’s Captain Steven Hiller, who we’re told died while taking some harvested alien tech for a test spin.
Thankfully, there are women too, with Sela Ward in the presidential hot seat, Maika Monroe as President Whitmore’s daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg as a French psychiatrist, and Chinese actress and model Angelababy also piloting a souped-up jet. Frustratingly, all are pretty much sidelined while the guys get on with the business of winning the war in an interminable dogfight.
With this many characters (we haven’t even mentioned William Fichtner’s military general and Deobia Oparei’s katana-wielding African warlord) and a sub-plot involving humans dreaming of a circular symbol, this might have been titled ‘Independence Day: Submergence’. It’s certainly hard not to drown in the sea of CGI, with the exponential increase of pixels being to Independence Day what the Star Wars prequels were to the original trilogy.
Who’d have thought ID4 would ever look like an exercise in restraint, its model-making (and subsequent breaking) clean and contained? Here, the set-pieces are cluttered, with only a desert chase involving a school bus and a towering alien queen displaying any discipline and excitement. It’s one corner of the Kaiju movie Emmerich should have made.
In the end, Goldblum’s Levinson sums it up while talking about the mothership sucking up whole cities from the Earth’s surface: “What goes up, must come down.” Sadly, he might have been talking about the franchise.
THE VERDICT: How much is too much? Only worth it for Goldblum’s delivery and a couple of gags – one involving the White House, another a dog – that play on the original.
Director: Roland Emmerich; Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Bull Pullman, Jesse Usher, Maika Monroe; Theatrical release: June 23, 2016
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS
What do your pets do when you leave for the day? That’s the premise of Illumination’s latest animation, a Manhattan-set adventure co-directed by Despicable Me’s Chris Renaud. Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is an excitable pup who finds his world turned upside down when owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) brings home another dog, the shaggy-looking Duke (Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet), from the pound.
The pair are soon at each other’s throats – and thanks to a chain of events, run into alley cats, the animal control unit and an underground gang of unwanted pets, led by (a very funny) Kevin Hart as psycho-bunny Snowball. The scope isn’t quite on a par with classic The Incredible Journey (1963), but there’s still plenty of huff and puff across the metropolis.
What makes Pets a joy is the abundance of absurdist gags – the poodle that listens to death metal, the dream-like visit to a hot-dog factory. What’s more, mammal mannerisms are caught to a tee. While the film relies on many chase scenes, the finale manages some real ‘aww’ moments, most notably a montage set to Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’. You’ll want to go home and hug your favourite furry friends.
Directors: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney; Voices: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Jenny Slate, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress, Albert Brooks; Theatrical release: June 24, 2016
A twentysomething man (Tom Sturridge) awakens from a coma with his memory all but gone and £8.5m compensation in the bank. Returning to his Brixton flat, he’s visited by ghosts of his past life – Greg (Ed Speleers), claiming to be his best friend, and Catherine (Cush Jumbo), his apparent girlfriend.
Numb, disconnected, he uses his money to buy buildings and hire actors to stage re-enactments of his vague recollections in the hope they will trigger his memory. When scenarios play out perfectly, he finds himself momentarily plugged back into the world and abuzz with excitement, a buzz that only intensifies as new, evermore dangerous memories form until he’s orchestrating a daring bank heist…
Based on Tom McCarthy’s excellent same-titled novel, this clever adaptation is both strikingly faithful and different; paradoxically, the book’s linear narrative is twisted into a figure-eight structure even as a thriller dynamic propels the action forward. Marking the confident debut of renowned video artist Omer Fast, Remainder is thrillingly realised on a small budget.
Sturridge is note-perfect as a protagonist who is suspicious, emotionally cut off, and intent on bending all about him to his considerable will. That he also wins our empathy is one of the film’s many triumphs.
Director: Omer Fast; Starring: Tom Sturridge, Cush Jumbo, Ed Speleers, Arsher Ali; Theatrical release: June 24, 2016
At his late-’90s peak, wiggy Basque auteur Julio Medem (Lovers of the Arctic Circle) directed with heart and art on his sleeve. Heart capsizes his schmaltzy Penélope Cruz team-up, leaving the head far behind. Cruz commits herself as a single mum hit with breast cancer, but forced plotting and relentless uplift undermine her conviction.
As she shacks up with a bereaved man and embraces pregnancy despite worsening cancer, a mawkish tragi-portrait of resilient earth-mother radiance emerges in whiffs of pure cheese. You’d call it offensive if the faux-deep dialogue and karaoke-singing gynaecologists were not merely ludicrous.
Director: Julio Medem; Starring: Penélope Cruz, Silvia Abascal, Elena Carranza, Àlex Brendemühl; Theatrical release: June 24, 2016
ADULT LIFE SKILLS
Friends since uni, first-time writer/director Rachel Tunnard and star Jodie Whittaker team for this tale of Anna, who’s staring 30 in the face and living in her mum’s shed. Tunnard clearly eats Sundance movies for breakfast, but this is well-crafted with a genuine heart beneath the surface quirk. Knock a star off if you’re feeling cynical, but otherwise surrender to this fun, funny, spirited debut.
Director: Rachel Tunnard; Starring: Jodie Whittaker Ozzy Myers Brett Goldstein Alice Lowe; Theatrical release: June 24, 2016
NO HOME MOVIE
You feel every second passing in Chantal Akerman’s record of her last conversations with her mother, Auschwitz survivor Natalia. The camera soaks up the stillness of the apartment, broken by fond Skype chats or winding reminisces about Judaism and childhood. Deliberately uneventful and domestic, it’s a fiercely private piece given extra poignancy by Akerman’s own death last year.
Director: Chantal Akerman; Starring: Natalia Akerman, Chantal Akerman, Sylviane Akerman; Theatrical release: June 24, 2016
ELVIS & NIXON
Liza Johnson’s speculative take on a real-life 1970 meeting between Presley (Michael Shannon) and Pres (Kevin Spacey) is an amusing but slight snapshot of two men disconnected from their personas. Much of it feels like amiable padding, but Spacey’s spot-on Tricky Dicky and Shannon’s convincing-in-wig-alone Elvis spark when they meet: cue giggles as the latter karate-kicks around the Oval Office.
Director: Liza Johnson; Starring: Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Colin Hanks, Johnny Knoxville, Alex Pettyfer; Theatrical release: June 24, 2016
Ken Loach offers an intriguing snapshot of working-class London in this re-release of his 1967 debut. Barmaid Joy (Carol White) gives birth, sees her crim husband (John Bindon) go to prison then shacks up with his best friend (Terence Stamp). There are too many stylistic quirks (voiceover, Donovan soundtrack) for this to be quintessential Loach, but as a portrait of a struggling mum it’s spot-on.
Director: Ken Loach; Starring: Carol White, Terence Stamp, John Bindon, Queenie Watts; Theatrical release: June 24, 2016
CRAZY ABOUT TIFFANY’S
Given the associated sophistication, there’s an accessible vibe to this doc exploring the Tiffany’s history and cultural impact. In fact, several of the talking heads (Jessica Biel, Sam Taylor-Johnson et al) are caught off-guard mid-interview. Pepped up with clips from Sex and the City and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Matthew Miele’s film is as stylish and playful as Tiffany’s signature packaging.
Director: Matthew Miele; Theatrical release: June 24, 2016
Fresh from turning Romanzo Criminale and Gomorrah into top TV, director Stefano Sollima launches a new Netflix series with a multi-level crime saga. It centres on a sleazy politician (Pierfrancesco Favino) and is set against a backdrop of fiscal, religious and meteorological upheaval. Sollima interweaves gangsters, pimps, junkies and scary dogs with pungent echoes of venal Ancient Rome.
Director: Stefano Sollima; Starring: Greta Scarano, Pierfrancesco Favino, Jean-Hugues Anglade; Theatrical release: June 24, 2016
Susan Sarandon’s kind but chronically over-helpful Marnie becomes a mother of a problem for just-dumped LA screenwriter Lori (Rose Byrne) in this warm but lightweight comedy-drama. The scenarios are a bit sitcom-y (pregnancy test mix-ups, etc) and J.K. Simmons’ sexy retired cop a bit convenient. But Sarandon is magnificent in a film that’s as full of heart as it is blatant Apple product placement.
Director: Lorene Scafaria; Starring: Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J.K Simmons; Theatrical release: June 24, 2016
Writer/director Thomas Bidegain’s slow-burner follows Alain (François Damiens), a father on the trail of his missing teen daughter – a journey that takes him from Yemen to Syria as it becomes apparent she’s converted to Islam. Less a treatise on extremism than an exploration of western fears and prejudices, this is potent and provocative – and packs a skin-prickling finale.
Director: Thomas Bidegain; Starring: François Damiens, Finnegan Oldfield, Agathe Dronne; Theatrical release: June 26, 2016